by Rochelle Metcalfe
This column was written and published in the Sun Reporter in December 2006 in I Heard That, the column Rochelle Metcalfe wrote for decades.
The morning of Dec. 7 (2006) found me traveling through the UPPER AND LOWER NINTH WARD of NEW ORLEANS, where hundreds and thousands of homes were destroyed by the aftermath of HURRICANE KATRINA in August 2005! The storm ripped the hearts and souls of residents who fled the City to other parts of the country now waiting to COME BACK HOME.
PAINFUL to see blocks and blocks of homes toppled, crushed, some standing, ripped off their foundations! Nothing has been done to REBUILD – LEFT IS A STARK REMINDER OF HOW THIS COUNTRY TREATED ITS OWN!!!
SURE, THE GARDEN QUARTERS LOOKS LIKE LIFE IS WONDERFUL IN THE BIG EASY – TOURISTS HAVING A BALL in the French Quarter. IT’S all SUPERFICIAL! GO BEHIND THE SCENES; SEE WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON! TWO THIRDS of the City is LOCKED DOWN! TOUR BUSSES are not allowed in the NINTH WARD!
The OLDEST AND GREATEST CITY IN AMERICA WILL NEVER COME BACK – ONLY A REPLICA OF WHAT IT ONCE WAS!
The storm ripped the hearts and souls of residents who fled the City to other parts of the country now waiting to COME BACK HOME.
The morning was chilly, wind blowing across the area – IF THE WINDS could talk, one would hear agonizing cries of loss, despair and FEAR! Like many, I was glued to TV during the tragedy of Katrina and Rita, which gave an EYEWITNESS REPORT watching the chaotic scene – people helpless, homes ripped apart – everything under water. GENOCIDE BEFORE OUR EYES!
SHOCKED to see the UPPER AND LOWER NINTH WARD STAND as a BLEAK AND HORRIBLE REMINDER THAT WILL NOT DISAPPEAR QUICKLY! ALREADY OVER A YEAR!
It’s LONELY – NO CHIRPING OF BIRDS OR BLOOMING FLOWERS – understand RATS RUN FREELY; IT WAS A COLD SCENE, not because the weather was chilly, BUT NO ONE WAS HOME! ROADS HAVE NO STREET SIGNS, NOR ELECTRICITY. Army Corps of Engineers utility truck and workers were clearing debris from the roads.
BULLDOZERS could clear off the land like magic to make it all disappear! BUT many of the owners cannot be found. Or holding out for compensation and hope to REBUILD, most at this late date HAVE NOT RECEIVED MONEY THAT WAS PROMISED TO REBUILD. THEY WAIT! Many CRAMPED IN FEMA TRAILERS, IF LUCKY TO RECEIVE ONE. KATRINA WAS A WAKEUP CALL!
BUSH CAN SEND AID TO IRAQ BUT REFUSED TO HELP NEW ORLEANS! HE COULD CUT THROUGH THE RED TAPE AND GET THE BALL ROLLING! We must NEVER FORGET THIS HORRIBLE TRAGEDY IN THE PAGES OF AMERICAN HISTORY AND HOW PEOPLE OF COLOR WERE CAUGHT IN A BAD SITUATION! IGNORED as they yelled from roof tops to be saved!
Public Relations Communications Director Mr. MATTHEW BROUSSARD, with the Honorable New Orleans COUNCILWOMAN CYNTHIA WILLARD LEWIS, District E – LOWER AND UPPER WARD NINE – whose district was the WORST HIT BECAUSE OF THE LEVEE BREAK, graciously picked me up at the MARRIOTT on Canal Street to give me a private tour through the area. One main thoroughfare traveled was ST. CLAUDE Street to LOWER NINE (western side of the Industrial Canal.) District E, largest of the 17 parishes, 67 percent, would be the LARGEST city in Louisiana if it was a city by itself.
The LOWER NINTH WARD is the smallest, in an area south and east of these Industrial Canals. The portion of the Ninth Ward along the river, downriver from the Industrial Canal stretching to the ST. BERNARD line, is called the “Lower 9th Ward” or “Lower NINTH.” It includes the Holy Cross neighborhood and the Jackson Barracks and was long known for its HIGH portion of working class African American home ownership.
Broussard also showed me various areas where devastation can still be seen, which included the UPSCALE neighborhood of EASTOVER, a gated community built around a country club golf course – the area experienced damage, but homeowners were able to repair – golf course still not ready for game play.
Over in LOWER NINTH, where the home of New Orleans native, legendary singer FATS DOMINOE (“Blue Monday”) is located on CAFFIN … fancy black gated fence, sparkling yellow gold and black trimmed exterior, sign above read “Fats Dominoe Publishing” and large initials FD. Front door opened – you could see within bare wood beams.
Understand Fats is staying in ALGIERS until he can repair his home! HOPEFULLY he can come back home, for his health is not good. ALL RESIDENTS WANT TO WALK ON THE ROAD BACK HOME!
Walking or driving through the area, the SILENCE is penetrating! As Matthew drove around (no street signs, addresses gone), my eyes were attracted to the damaged home a block away from Fats, by the large AMERICAN FLAG hanging at the front of the house – THREE white FEMA trailers parked in what was once the driveway. A sign posted on the front porch WARNED “NO BULLDOZING!”
As I stood taking pictures of the scene, a young man walked from the back of the driveway. BRYANT MOSES lived there with his father, mother and sister. We talked – he shared very little had been done for them. Luckily he had a job at the Sheraton Hotel on Canal, across from the Marriott where I was staying. Shared his father commuted to a job in Houston. Bryant was a very nice young man … told him I would like to stay in touch to see how they are progressing in getting JUSTICE!
Walked to the area nearby where the LEVEE WALL has been rebuilt and stretched for miles; nearby on an empty lot were TWO white FEMA trailers, landmark for owners of the property – perhaps they lived in them as well. Another site, two WREATHS stood in front of a crumbling house, a memorial that recognized two people had died.
Walking or driving through the area, the SILENCE is penetrating!
MATTHEW’S parents lost their home, which he did not want to discuss … the hurt still there. He holds a degree in journalism but a year ago came back home to work in COUNCILWOMAN CYNTHIA WILLARD LEWIS’ office.
Heading out of the area, stopped at the Statue of Hope – a marble stone monument dedicated recently to those who died and to the living, which stands at the entrance way to the LOWER 9 on a mini park. Steel blue circular beams in heights that represent varying flood water levels – three or four chairs – one BLACK represented death.
After about three hours out, Matthew had to return to CITY Hall, located downtown on PERDIDO Street. Introduced to staff that included Director of Neighborhood Services and Special Projects CLARENCE BICKHAM. THANKED MATTHEW and plan to stay in touch with him. HE WAS WONDERFUL TO ME!
NOW MISS LENA STEWART HOOKED me up BEFORE I ARRIVED IN N.O. when called the office to speak with Honorable COUNCILMAN OLIVER THOMAS Jr., Council president, to inform him of my intended visit. Noticed the councilman on C-SPAN about two months ago on a panel discussion about N.O., impressed with what he had to say.
Learn the councilman would be in Washington, D.C., on a whirlwind campaign with MAYOR RAY NAGIN in meetings with politicians on behalf of New Orleans RECOVERY efforts, DIRE need for REBUILDING MONEY FROM FEMA, and other problems needed to open the way to the road to RECOVERY for a town STILL LOCKED DOWN in two-thirds of the city!
Nagin CAN GET TOUGH and feels the FEDS HAVE ABANDONED NEW ORLEANS RECOVERY. Bluntly told it like it was: “WE ARE READY TO GO. LET THE MONEY FLOW!”
Ms. Stewart, a handsome well-dressed woman, is Councilman Thomas’ constituent relations and legislation aide – AND Community ACTIVIST. She suffered damage to her home, as did others in her neighborhood – believe Seventh WARD, but able with her savings and other resources to repair her home, and invited many over to share Thanksgiving dinner.
IRONIC my visit would be within days of Mayor Nagin’s appointment of Oakland Urban Planner MR. EDWARD BLAKELY, named executive director of the RECOVERY Program for the City to coordinate the REBUILDING, in town doing MEDIA TV interview requests and pulling together his office and staff before flying back to SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, where he’s been working. He will move to the Big EASY, assume office in January to begin the task.
SURPRISED over Blakely’s background, despite the fact he was a candidate running for OAKLAND MAYOR along with about seven other Blacks, but came in SECOND behind JERRY BROWN, who won without a runoff! A BRILLIANT MAN who led the recovery effort after the LOMA Prieta earthquake in 1989; after 9/11 coordinated a response plan for New York with an entire downtown plan!
Now a BIGGER CHALLENGE to bring NEW ORLEANS TOGETHER! Read in a New Orleans Daily, Blakely stated among FIVE priorities in the recovery “CONTINUE THE HEALING’” by keeping residents engaged. AND to create a MODERN SETTLEMENT pattern.
LEFT City Hall HUNGRY AS ALL GET OUT – CAUGHT A CAB TO the Seventh WARD and PAMPY’S! I ACCOMPLISHED WHAT I SET OUT TO DO in celebration of my birthday, which was SIGNIFICANT. WISHED I COULD HAVE TAKEN A CAMERA CREW to the Big Easy!
PROMISED MAYOR NAGIN I WOULD SEE HIM AGAIN when meeting him in Houston during the summer, but as stated he was out of town … left a note with his office. LUCKY I WAS SO WELL RECEIVED, AND MS. LENA STEWART’s info and direction made it possible. THANK YOU, LADY! LOOK FOR ME AGAIN!
HEY, IT’S NICE TO BE NICE AND TO ALL OF YOU OUT THERE … LOOK FOR ME … I’LL BE THERE …
Email Rochelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.